JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2022 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Zach Selby of the Washington Commanders on the Commanders' matchup with the Jaguars at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., Sunday at 1 p.m.
Q: The Commanders finished 7-10 last season in Ron Rivera's second season as head coach. What's the outlook entering 2022?
A: This team has a lot of high expectations for what it has on the roster for 2022. Rivera made it very clear even before last season ended that he expects this team to take a big jump in his third season. That's a little to be expected. That's what teams do in the third seasons of a tenure. But he has backed it up in just about every way. He made a point to say, 'We want to go get a quarterback. We want to find an answer there.' They went out and traded for [quarterback] Carson Wentz from the Indianapolis Colts. They wanted to give him (Wentz) more weapons and brought in first-round [wide receiver] Jahan Dotson and fifth-round tight end Cole Turner. They feel they're primed to make some moves. Are they a 12- or 13-win team? That remains to be seen, but you can definitely expect them to improve upon the 7-10 record they had last season.
Q: Trading for Wentz was the franchise's high-profile offseason move. How has that gone so far?
A: I think it has been everything they expected it would be. One of the first things they made clear to Wentz as soon as he walked in the doors was that he is wanted here. They want him and his talents to help lead the offense. You hear a lot about Wentz, the good and the bad, but the good has really shown through a lot these past few months. He has been a really good leader. He established relationships with teammates and receivers from the start. He has been a guy players have been able to rally around. You have to look at preseason with a grain of salt, but he completed 72 percent of his passes for 138 yards in the few series he played. He's still learning the offense, but you can see him getting into a rhythm with [wide receivers] Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel and his tight ends. I think he's going to help the offense in a lot of ways.
Q: What do they want this offense to be? What's their ideal?
A: You're going to see an offense that's a lot more open and downfield than it has been the last couple of seasons. Offensively, they seem to have a lot of weapons to put the vision Rivera has for this team into reality. Am I saying they're one of the top offenses in the league? No. But I think you're going to see more flashes of those more modern offenses that go downfield. Wentz hasn't shown his arm strength that much in practice, but when he does you say, 'Wow.' Their receivers have the ability to get downfield and they're athletic. They're still going to run the ball, but they're going to go downhill when they need to. I think this is going be a very versatile offense that's going to demand a lot from its pieces and I think they have the talent to get a lot of those jobs done.
Q: The defense has the reputation of being the strength of the team. Fair?
A: On paper, it is. I would say it's a little more even [between offense and defense] now. [Defensive end] Chase Young is not going to be available for the first four games, but they feel good about the starters on the defensive line while they wait for him. [Defensive end] Montez Sweat seems very primed to make a bigger name for himself and of course [defensive tackles] Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne are stalwarts on the interior. They have four first-round picks up front; that's a pretty good group. You feel confident in the linebackers. Communication has been a point of emphasis in the secondary, and that seems to have improved a lot. They feel like they're more in synch. They gave up a lot of big plays in 2021. That was one of the big issues. They would stop teams and get into third-and-long, then they would give up a 20- or 30-yard pass. That just sucks all the air out of the momentum. Potentially, this defense is a strength. At the same, they're in a position now that they need to prove it a little more than they did last year.
Q: What is success for the Commanders this season? Is this playoffs or bust? Winning season or bust?
A: I think they want to be competitive, which is getting a winning season. Washington has not had a winning season since 2016, when they were 8-7-1. That's a long time to be below .500 or around that area. They have one of the easiest strengths of schedules in the league. They have upgraded a lot of areas. I don't see a below-.500 team this year. Nine, 10 wins is a possibility and very realistic. There is a path for 11 or 12, but you have to prove it in those situations. If the offense is what they think it is and the defense lives up to its potential, 11 or 12 wins is certainly out there. Realistically, nine or 10 wins is where you would want it to be. Nine or 10 wins is normally what wins the NFC East – with the exception of last season. If they can get to that nine- or 10-win mark, they're right in the thick of things.